A gender data revolution for accountability and transparency in post-2015

Training session with a local women's committee in Bweru, Democratic Republic of the Congo focusing on reproductive health and gender-based violence. Photo by: Caroline Gluck / Oxfam / CC BY-NC-ND

As U.N. member states negotiate the formulation of the new post-2015 development agenda, the successor framework to the Millennium Development Goals, the world is watching.  

The Open Working Group has now delivered its report, and negotiations for the new post-2015 development agenda will soon get underway, the success of which will depend in large part on the extent to which it is owned and whether people can hold those in power to account for what they decide.

A universal, transformative and rights-based post-2015 development agenda requires a universal commitment to measure progress, in every country, regardless of development status. It also requires a concerted effort to ensure data is being collected and is available to support monitoring, and that it is open and transparent, to ensure real accountability. The OWG has set out an ambitious agenda, with 17 goals and 169 targets. The challenge now will be to ensure that all the targets are measurable, and that the right indicators are put in place to measure progress.

In order to ensure that those in power can be held to account, it is critical that robust data and evidence demonstrate whether progress is being made — not just at a national level, but for different groups of people, in particular those who are poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged, and most at risk of being left behind.  

That’s why there’s a growing call for a “data revolution” for the post-2015 agenda — not only that data is available, but also that it is disaggregated by sex, ethnicity, age, disability and socio-economic status, to really capture inequalities and disparities. This call is taken up in the OWG report, which highlights enhanced capacity building support to developing countries, to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data. The newly appointed Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development — tasked to advise U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on measures required to close the data gaps and strengthen national statistical capacities — will have a critical role to play in this regard.

To really tackle inequality and discrimination, we must do more than simply focus on lifting people out of extreme poverty: Data must also reflect the increasingly unequal distribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities between women and men in many countries, as well as between countries. This means including measures that take account of nonmonetary forms of deprivation, such as multidimensional poverty measures; that monitor progress below the average and at the subnational level; as well as including specific indicators on income and assets and other forms of inequality.

As the saying goes, “What matters gets measured, and what we measure is what ends up mattering.” That was the experience of the MDGs: By setting a limited number of largely quantitative targets, the MDGs helped focus development efforts, and also drove data collection on critically important issues. Yet the MDGs did not set out to measure, and nor did they adequately capture, differential progress between population groups. Nor were many of the issues and concerns that are most pressing for people experiencing inequality, vulnerability and discrimination, such as human rights, effective governance and freedom from violence, included.

Gender inequality is not only one of the most pervasive forms of inequality, it is also a driver of  other forms of inequality, which underpin and intersect with other forms of vulnerability and disadvantage that strongly affect women, who constitute more than 50 percent of the world’s population.

Achieving gender equality and realizing women’s rights and women’s empowerment is therefore a key driver for achieving other development goals — and a measure of successful, prosperous and peaceful societies. Despite this, and as was highlighted at this year’s 58th Commission on the Status of Women meeting, many critical dimensions of gender inequality were missing in MDG 3.

The good news is that we have better and more widely available data on gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment than when the MDGs were developed. Over the past two decades, many national statistical offices have made significant efforts not only to produce sex disaggregated data, but also to measure gender inequalities.

For example, many more countries now have data on violence against women and girls — just this past March the EU released the largest survey ever, covering 28 countries and with 48,000 women respondents. More and more countries are conducting time use surveys that allow us to estimate the extent of unpaid care work and to integrate Household Satellite Accounts to measure unpaid care work. Initiatives such as the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality Initiative are developing and testing methodologies to measure women’s asset ownership and entrepreneurship.

In February 2013, the U.N. Statistical Commission adopted 52 standard indicators for measuring gender equality, the first time that a common set of standard indicators had been approved. This clearly demonstrates that gender equality is a universal concern. Furthermore, the commission has approved nine standard indicators for measuring violence against women. Regional efforts to generate gender statistics have also seen significant progress, including in Latin America, through the Gender Statistics Working Group of the Statistical Conference of the Americas presided over by INEGI.

This is indeed very timely. We don’t want to see critical gender equality issues excluded from the Sustainable Development Goals on the grounds that data is not available. Hence we need to have in place the baselines so that when the new post-2015 development agenda is rolled out, we are able to measure progress right from the start. This means we need to roll out and use these standard indicators in every country and region worldwide. This also means that we need to understand the importance of — and increase our investment in — the production of data and information and, in particular, we need to support and increase the role of national statistical offices.

Right now, in the discussions that have followed the release of the OWG report, we are seeing a strong push to once again include targets that can be measured, where countries have or are able to put in place mechanisms to collect data, and are able to report on progress. We are seeing the same push towards quantitative targets that are easier to measure, away from qualitative targets, and targets on sensitive and hard to measure issues, that we saw with the MDGs. However, we cannot afford to just settle for “MDGs plus” when it comes to setting targets and identifying indicators for the new post-2015 development agenda. We need to go further. We need to be ambitious. We cannot restrict ourselves to the minimum common denominators that are already in place.

Political will and commitment is therefore required to ensure that targets on the most sensitive rights issues are included, and that we find ways to measure, monitor and hold governments to account on these issues. All countries will need to consider how to adopt and adapt these targets at the national level, and ensure that data is fully disaggregated to really measure progress not just at the aggregate level but for all groups of people.

All countries will need to put in place, track and report on gender-sensitive indicators that measure progress towards achieving gender equality and the human rights of women and girls.

That’s why we need more than a “data revolution” to measure progress in the new post-2015 development agenda — we need a gender data revolution.

Including gender-responsive targets, and developing and enhancing standards and methodologies for use at the national and international level to improve data collection and availability will be key, including on women’s poverty, income distribution within households, unpaid care work, women’s access to control and ownership of assets and productive resources, women’s participation at all levels of decision-making and, violence against women.

This is essential if we are to bring about real change in the lives of women and men and boys and girls, and measure and assess progress towards achieving gender equality, women’s rights and women’s empowerment.

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About the authors

  • John hendra profile

    John Hendra

    John Hendra is former deputy executive director for policy and program at UN Women. He is now serving as Senior Coordinator, UN “Fit for Purpose” for the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
  • Eduardo sojo

    Eduardo Sojo

    Eduardo Sojo Garza-Aldape is president of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico, and member of the UN Secretary-General's Independent Expert Advisory Group on the Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. Previously he was head of the Office of the President of Mexico for Public Policy and Coordinator of the Economic Cabinet, Minister of Economy and research analyst at the University of Pennsylvania Link Project.